On their way to a honeymoon in Italy, a newlywed couple, Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand) and his luscious bride, Isle (Sandra Julien), decide to spend part of their honeymoon in an old castle that belongs to Isle’s two cousins, whom she desires to visit with. They learn in the village that the two owners of the castle have just passed away the day before and were entombed in the cemetery, and the only occupants in the castle now are the servants. Upon arrival, the couple is shown to their room by two beautiful servants. Upset and in mourning over the loss of her cousins, Isle wishes to sleep alone on the first night. Her husband respects her wishes and rooms elsewhere, and later when the clock strikes midnight, Isle receives a visit from a mysterious female presence, who goes by Isolde (Dominique). This visitor seduces Isle, putting her in a hypnotic state, luring her to the graveyard at night to ceremoniously bite her neck and feed off her blood, just enough to not kill her. The seduced Isle becomes obsessed with these nocturnal meetings with the vampiric Isolde that she continually wishes to be alone at night. Of course Isle’s behavior doesn’t sit well with Antoine who attempts to get to the bottom of things when Isle’s cousins, previously thought dead, begin to make appearances while his wife, who does not wish to leave the castle, is drawn further and further to becoming something else, as she begins to show a sensitivity to sunlight and an appetite for dove’s blood.
The Shiver of the Vampires is somewhat of an apex in Rollin’s early career; the artist had indeed been improving with each effort, further developing and nearly perfecting at this point what he was trying to achieve with his previous works, The Nude Vampire and The Rape of the Vampire (The very first French vampire film). With Shiver, Rollin seems well past the beginner phase in his horror output, paying heed to a good narrative while still maintaining that artistic flair with successful experimentation and new ideas. Some of the ingenious erotic moments serve a purpose to the story while others might seem a bit random. The proceedings are still nice and weird, the way we like them, especially in this case with the inclusion of an entertaining pair of crazy, intellectual weirdoes, Isle’s two vampire cousins (Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles). The hard-hitting prog-rock soundtrack, from the band Acanthus, also works very nicely at generating excitement and enhancing the fun with something that is akin to head bangin’ in a graveyard.
The idea of nightly visits from a vampire coming into your room to seduce and introduce you to a new and dark Gothic world is Cinema Fantastique at its best. Isolde’s ability to seduce Isle is powerful, entrapping her like prey, resulting in Isle shunning her husband, sending him away at night, secretly in anticipation of being alone for when her new vampire lover arrives to take her on another dark adventure, at the cost of her mortality. This, of course, has been adulterated for the purposes of production demands and to better suit the preference of audiences of the time, but Rollin’s knack for beauty and fantasy overpowers any sort vampire porn notions, here.
Like the Zombie vs. Shark scene in Fulci’s Zombi 2, there’s a particular scene fans refuse to forget and prominently associate Shiver with, and that’s when, following the midnight chime, the door to a grandfather clock opens, and the pale hippie/lesbian vampire, Isolde, emerges from inside like a magician’s stage illusion to encounter Isle for the first time. It’s a simple and easy to implement idea that manages to be very effective, far more amusing and imaginative than having her instantaneously appear with stop editing. Though, the movie makes use of stop editing on a couple occasions, particularly during moments with Isolde appearing in the cemetery at night, with bloodcurdling shrieking that is both silly and creepy. There are a couple more interesting entrances this vampire mistress makes, which I won’t give away, that are definitely worth looking out for.
The two castle servants, played by Marie-Pierre Castel and Kuelan Herce, are a peculiar bunch and are the two characters with the most enigmatic origin, with most of the other characters actually having backstories. They are a beautifying decoration to Rollin’s colorful film, in that they are exhibited in all sorts of manner, holding chandeliers, moving in and out of scenes, silently standing in the background and foreground, frequently in different dress, even pulling garments out of a crate and changing in front of the camera. They are strange and even fetishistic like the servant pair from Rollin’s previous The Nude Vampire. Just why these young ladies are here in a remote and run down castle as servants, or even how they got here, is not made clear, but it is apparent that they are being held against their own will, especially when they seem more than willing to aid Antoine’s revolt against the vampire madness when he offers prospects of their freedom.
I previously mentioned that the vampiress of the story is the seductress, but in contrast male vampires usually dominate, as opposed to seduce, and that idea is brought out with the male vampires of this story. The vampire brothers, Isle’s cousins, are the most noteworthy and entertaining of the cast of characters. They just sort of takeover in the second half of the film, not only stealing the show but becoming the primary antagonists, a role that earlier seemed reserved for Isolde, whom they were seduced by before becoming vampires but now have dominated and taken control of. They are philosophical, intelligent, completely off-the-wall, and are played by the only actors in the film that don’t have blank expressions most of the time. It should also be mentioned that their roles are fleshed out nicely with an intriguing backstory, as these vampires used to be vampire hunters.
The ending is made memorable due to an emotionally bombastic closing visual of Antoine in a running frenzy along a shoreline, shouting, and firing his gun to the sky merely for the sake of amplifying the dramatics. It was shot on that familiar beach stretch Rollin frequently filmed at, Pourville-sur-Dieppe, aka “Rollin’s Beach.”
If Rollin’s less gory, in comparison to say The Living Dead Girl and The Grapes of Death, erotic vampire pictures really work for you, Shiver is recommended without a doubt. If one were to ask me if I could recommend only one Rollin film, what would it be, I would say Fascination, but Shiver would’ve been my next pick. While it omits the science fiction edge prevalent in the previous The Nude Vampire for a more traditional Gothic feel, there is still an avant-garde approach with a relatively straightforward plot to keep it tethered to the ground, preventing it from flying away too far into art-house territory. Quite simply a wondrous achievement that not only satisfies that surreal escapism we all crave, but it’s also a great time.